Airline Denies Man and Dog Flight to Escape Irma Due to Pet Carrier Regulations

Matt and his dog Meeka speak to CNN’s Randi Kaye

*If you knew that certain death awaited your pet if you left it behind in an emergency, would you do it anyway? Matt Varga had run all around his Kendall, Florida neighborhood to find a store with a pet carrier to accommodate his dog’s flight. They were among the hundreds of people forced to evacuate and escape the harsh realities of devastation in the wake of Hurricane Irma. But even though he went to 10 different stores, all of the carriers were sold out.

When he went to the airlines to board his flight, both he and his dog, Meeka, were denied. The strict federal regulations on how pets can be transported on planes says pets must have an approved carrier for the animal. 

Of course, once word reached social media, all hell broke loose. After Varga granted CNN an interview the incident drew ire from pet lovers all over. Even anchor Anderson Cooper spoke out saying the airline should have made an exception in this case.

“It’s not a huge dog,” Cooper said of Meeka. “You would think they’d make an exception,” he said after the interview. 

Such “exceptions” have come to pass…in the past. But it takes two things to make it happen: guts and  compassion. Social media users referenced the Fort McMurray wildfire in Canada last year, when a pilot for energy company Suncor stepped out against policy to save 36 pets from the blaze — including cats, dogs, hedgehogs, a chinchilla and some frogs.

Pilot Keith Mann said he had to bend some rules in this instance. Things he had to take in account was the number of animals allowed on a flight and what parts of the plane they would be able to occupy.

I suppose this is hard for people who are not pet lovers or owners to understand; the inseparable bond a human can form with a pet. But as a pet owner AND animal lover I can attest declare…

I could not…would not…just leave my pets. Doing so would haunt me for the rest of my days. Especially knowing the outcome.

Looking back at the devastating number of pets that died during Hurricane Katrina, where many people actually chose to take the risk and stay behind with their pets — Congress passed a 2006 Pets Evacuation and Transportation Standards Act. The bipartisan bill that  puts some plan of protection in effect for pets and mandates the Federal Emergency Management Agency to include them in evacuation plans in federal disasters. 

Unfortunately, there are gaps in the bill.  The PETS Act does not require private companies like hotels to make special accommodations for pets. It also doesn’t change regulations around air travel.

If you’re wondering how this ended, at least so far, Vargas stood his ground. With Meeka in his arms, CNN reporter Randi Kaye asked him if he was going to leave his dog behind.

I wasn’t there in person, but I can bet you he didn’t skip a beat when he said, “No, of course not.” Vargas has chosen to take his chases with the storm and wait it out…

…right by Meeka’s side.

 

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